Guangdong authorities say they will rein in tour operators using Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge to prevent overcrowding in Tung Chung
- Quiet town on Lantau Island has experienced disruption from large numbers of tour groups since mega bridge opened a month ago
- An average of 68,000 passengers passed through Hong Kong port each day
Guangdong authorities have promised to regulate the province’s travel sector following an influx of mainland Chinese tourists to a quiet Hong Kong suburb following the opening of the mega bridge a month ago.
The pledge came a day after Guangzhou’s tourism authority sent an “urgent notice” to mainland Chinese travel agencies to ask them to avoid sending tour groups on weekends to Hong Kong via the mega crossing, which has carried more than 2 million passengers since it opened to traffic on October 24.
The city’s largest pro-establishment party the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong cited a reply from the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the Guangdong Provincial People’s Government, revealing the mainland body’s pledge to address the problems of the influx, including illegal tours coming to the city via the bridge.
The office said relevant authorities would urge mainland travel agencies to comply with the law and remind them to pay attention to the bridge authorities’ notifications on traffic and passenger flow.
“[They should] arrange tour itineraries in a logical and reasonable way, to reduce waiting times for travellers at the bridge,” it read.
It added that relevant departments would step up its communication with Hong Kong’s tourism authorities and notify them of the number of tour group travellers in a specific time.
In a separate move, the operator running port-to-port shuttle bus services on the bridge announced it would also start limiting its online ticket sales for trips from Zhuhai to Hong Kong starting from Saturday to divert passenger flows.
Travellers would need to pre-order tickets through the official WeChat accounts of the bus company or of its ticket suppliers at the Zhuhai port, unless under special conditions.
But Hong Kong’s Transport Department said holders of Hong Kong identity cards and foreign passports could still buy tickets at the Zhuhai port for travelling to Hong Kong.
The concerted efforts are to ease overcrowding and traffic pressures in the city brought by an influx of tourists.
From October 24 to November 22, the local checkpoint at the bridge received a passenger flow of 2.04 million. On average, more than 67,000 passengers passed through the Hong Kong port each day, meeting the government’s projection tabled in 2008.
According to a Legislative Council document from that year, a daily flow of 55,850 to 69,200 was expected in 2016, when the bridge was initially scheduled to open.
On November 17, a record of more than 103,000 passengers flowed through the local port, according to the Immigration Department.
But the high figures were a headache to people living in Tung Chung, the residential zone closest to the bridge checkpoint, as many tour groups arriving by public bus poured into the area, causing disturbances for residents.
The grievances escalated earlier this month, prompting protests by locals.
The Travel Industry Council’s executive director Alice Chan Cheung Lok-yee expected the mainland travel trend to the bridge to last for at least half a year, but she believed that, after Guangzhou officials issued their statement, the situation would be more orderly.
Lin Yu, who works in marketing staff for the Guangzhou-based agency Nanhu Travel, said the agency has decided to reschedule all groups coming to Hong Kong through the mega bridge from Saturday onwards.
But Hong Kong Inbound Tour Operators Association chairman Ricky Tse Kam-ting said it might be at least 10 days before the full impact of the Guangzhou authorities order is felt, as some of the agencies might not be able to reschedule them in time.
Wong Chun-yeung of local activist group Tung Chung Future, who staged a protest in the district to “reclaim” the zone from mainlanders, said he was satisfied with the measures announced and there were signs of improvements over overcrowding.
But he said he was considering applying for a notice of no objection for a march and assembly every weekend so as to keep more police officers in the area.
“It’s a way of preparing. If there are a lot of tourists, then we can do something right away,” he said
“So that way Hong Kong taxpayers can feel more secure,” Wong added.
Lawmaker Holden Chow Ho-ding, welcomed the measures rolled out by mainland authorities, saying the situation in Tung Chung had improved last week.
But he said some residents were worried whether the measure to get tours to avoid the weekends would instead mean Tung Chung would be crowded during the week.
Meanwhile, the bridge recorded more than 93,000 vehicular trips from October 24 to November 22, or a daily average of about 3,100 trips. The number fell short of the estimate made for 2016, when officials expected to see 9,200 to 14,000 per day.
Shuttle buses and coaches used the bridge the most, with more than 2,000 trips recorded on the bridge on average each day. But the number of container trucks crossing the bridge was relatively low, with a daily average of only 21 vehicular trips.
Additional reporting by Xinqi Su